The Cloud of Unknowing

June 6, 2013

I’m pleased to say that the International Journal of Technoethics has just published a paper by me entitled “The ‘Cloud’ of Unknowing – What a Government Cloud May and May Not Offer: A Practitioner Perspective”, International Journal of Technoethics 4(1) 1-10 January – June 2013.

The abstract is as follows:

“Cloud computing is increasingly ubiquitous in the consumer and private sectors and with financial austerity there is pressure on governments to follow suit. However, the relationship between government and citizen is different to that of supplier and customer, despite the advocacy of New Public Management, particularly where the holding of sensitive data is concerned. The paper examines the potential issues of ‘cloud’ and how they may transfer to ‘government cloud’ (g-cloud), along with the potential problems pertinent to ‘g-cloud’ itself. There is an examination of the literature relating to security, legal and technical matters concluding with the considerations and principles that need to be observed prior to any major transfer of citizen data to a relatively new but still developing area of information systems.”

Whilst I have been largely silent on this blog I have continued with academic work, possibly more reading than writing, but have a couple of other drafts in process, along with what is hopefully a more profound work that may one day see the light of day.

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G-cloud of unknowing

October 18, 2012

I’m pleased to announce that my paper “The ‘cloud’ of unknowing – what a government cloud may and may not offer: a practitioner perspective” has been accepted by the International Journal of Technoethics for publication in early 2013. Since this is a long while to wait here’s the abstract:

“Cloud computing is increasingly ubiquitous in the consumer and private sectors and with financial austerity there is pressure on governments to follow suit. However, the relationship between government and citizen is different to that of supplier and customer, despite the advocacy of New Public Management, particularly where the holding of sensitive data is concerned. The paper examines the potential issues of ‘cloud’ and how they may transfer to ‘government cloud’ (g-cloud), along with the potential problems pertinent to ‘g-cloud’ itself. There is an examination of the literature relating to security, legal and technical matters concluding with the considerations and principles that need to be observed prior to any major transfer of citizen data to a relatively new but still developing area of information systems.”

I do hope you enjoy…


Storm cloud

July 18, 2012

The recent stormy weather on the east coast of the USA should serve as a warning to all potential  and cloud users. The storm knocked out Google and some other providers for a time, and some of these were facilities used by government. In response the USACM, the US ACM Public Policy Council has published some guidance for US federal agencies but also a blog post extending this to state and local government. The post is entitled, slightly confusingly in my opinion, “USACM Makes Recommendations On Continuity of E-Government“.

There are two issues here in my opinion:

1. Web services and supporting applications – is there a joined-up business continuity plan between your web offering and the applications that may feed into it or from it?

2. If you have entered the cloud, is your cloud service replicated with more than one provider or does your provider ensure that it is replicated onto differing technology, on a different network, in a different area?

Local government web sites are different to central or federal in that they present multiple service opportunities to the citizen. Each one of these needs to be reviewed in terms of risk and resilience. If you put all your eggs into one Google, Amazon or other basket, is there the provision for a cut over to another location or network in the event of a disaster?

It may be that the risk is worth taking if it’s a less important application, but the business case needs to be considered from the citizens’ standpoint. Are the citizens likely to be financially challenged, as occurred when HSBC had problems in May 2012?


Accountancy age

April 1, 2012

As my years in government IT have drawn to an early end and we’ve just had the UK budget I just thought I’d mark the occasion with a few comments upon accountancy which I have conluded from experience is one of the main reasons little in the system will actually change until that does. It is nothing personal against all the accountants I know and have known, and some I still consider friends, it’s just an attack on the dark art that obfuscates the potential for much real transformation, particularly in government.

An opinion piece in the Guardian a few years ago provides some background as to how the UK has permitted accountancy to take over the country, and to further confirm this, McSweeney, B. (2006). “Are we living in a post-bureaucratic epoch?” Journal of Organizational Change Management 19(1): 22-37. p.27, identified that the number of qualified accountants in the UK Civil Service increased from approximately 600 to over 2000 between 1982 and 2002, whilst the total number of civil servants had fallen.

But here on a lighter but (I hope) not too insulting note are some jokes I found some years ago and have made more politically correct:

What’s the definition of an accountant? Someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had in a way you don’t understand.

What’s the definition of a good tax accountant? Someone who has a loophole named after them.

When does a person decide to become an accountant? When they realise they don’t have the charisma to succeed as an undertaker.

What does an accountant use for birth control? Their personality.

What is an extrovert accountant? One who, whilst talking to you, looks at your shoes instead of their own.

What’s an auditor? Someone who arrives after the battle and bayonets the wounded.

Why did the auditor cross the road? Because they looked in the file and that’s what they did last year.

How many kinds of accountant are there? Three kinds – those who can count and those that can’t.

How do you drive an accountant completely crazy? Tie them to a chair, stand in front, and fold up a map the wrong way.

If government wants to implement transformation and cost savings it only has to simplify the whole bureacratic way everything is costed, charged and calculated across government. This will be even more important if there is going to be successful implementaion of ‘cloud’ services.


Molten cloud

March 20, 2012

An early warning regarding over-zealous ‘cloud’ adoption appears in a paper by Bryan Ford entitled “Icebergs in the Clouds: the Other Risks of Cloud Computing“. This may be appropriate with the current approach to the Public Sector Network (PSN) and others as a ‘network-of networks’ which is where the review strikes hardest.

In the rush for adoption, and I am one of those supporting it, we must not forget that there is a massive level of complexity when layering, linking or otherwise baking up virtual servers, with load and power balancing being in the hands of software. Whilst there are real cost savings to be made in this approach, I would argue that at least some of those savings are spent in adding the ‘piece of string’ to the ‘belt and braces’ that straight forward risk management will have taken.

This should not be seen as risk aversion but making allowances and recognising the necessarily complex systems we are building and allowing, to some extent, to manage themselves.


Open source cloud

October 12, 2011

I’ve written quite a few posts regarding the value of both ‘cloud’ and ‘open source’ computing in government service. However, a recent comment I saw elsewhere suggested that ‘cloud’ computing retained many of the issues of ‘proprietary’ software, and that whilst ‘open source’ should be welcomed, ‘cloud’ shouldn’t.

With the UK central government, being keen to save money whenever it can, it has made many supportive noises about ‘open source’, but there have been few examples of major use, although a recent piece in UKauthority reported that Bristol City Council had been informed that there were no security or accreditation issues with regards to such software, particularly for email. This is good news since having employed an excellent Linux-based email server at my own authority until the advent of Government Connect, at which point it had to be replaced by a proprietary one, I am keen that options remain. Bristol City are also famed for having employed Drupal as their web content management system, a route I would also like to follow.

I suspect this is where the definition of ‘cloud’ comes into play – does it become ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), where there is some contractual lock in or is it purely a method of hosting applications in a secure manner that takes the IT manager away from running their own data centre and network? I believe it can be both, and more – the contractual issues are there to satisfy both supplier and customer about their mutual obligations that may be more or less limiting, whilst in another approach it may be somewhere to store one’s data and applications in a secure and supported manner, without the additional cost of the ‘real estate’.

Am I miles off, or is it really a matter of contract?